Series Explores Race and Media in the Present

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Top row from left to right: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, E. Paul Coates, Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Bottom row from left to right: Dorian Emerson Munroe and Calvin Alexander Ramsey.

A year after the Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative (SBAC) received its nonprofit status, the BIPOC community and its allies continue to grapple with issues of systemic inequality. SBAC hosted the third of a four-part series of panel discussions in which a group of Black luminaries—led by journalist and civil rights activist, Charlayne Hunter-Gault—talked about the current state of inclusion in media and the arts.

The four panelists included novelist and writer Sarah Ladipo Manyika, playwright and children’s book writer Calvin Alexander Ramsey, founder and director of Black Classic Press E. Paul Coates, and former star football player turned filmmaker Dorian Emerson Munroe.

After introductions from each panelist, the conversation quickly turned to the current state of affairs when Hunter-Gault asked whether the rise in racial justice conversations precipitated by the death of George Floyd feel more actionable than in previous decades following the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

“In my observation, appreciation of Black culture ebbs and flows,” says Coates. As someone quite literally on the front lines of the 60s activist movements, Coates saw the political and social will for racial equality wax and wane through the 70s and 80s. Today, he says he can track the rise and fall of the movement through book sales from his publishing house, which publishes primarily rare or out-of-print books by forgotten or underappreciated Black writers. “Amidst the pandemic, there was a big swell of interest in Black literature,” he says.

“Especially after what happened, there seems to be an awakening in which folks want to know more,” Ramsey says, “but I just don’t know if this level of interest will last.” Like Coates, Ramsey says he has been around for long enough to have seen the ups and downs. He recalled that when he first transitioned to writing children’s books, most children’s books about Black characters weren’t even written by Black authors. “I was really surprised by that,” he says, “and I felt like it was something that needed to be addressed.”

Munroe questioned whether the current rise in awareness is here to stay or just a short-term publicity stunt on the part of many organizations. He also expressed the most optimism. He remembers hanging up his cleats and transitioning to film in Miami, where hardly any films are produced at all. “I had to work even harder to get noticed,” he says, “but there are lots of grants solely for BIPOC creators. Ultimately, I feel like any demographic has pros and cons; I just have to navigate the cards I was given.”

“How can your whole institution be reflective of our country?" said Manyika. "You have to think institutionally and remember that issues of race affect all of us as the human race.”

The fourth part of the panel series comes in the Fall of 2021 and will explore higher education.

Pictured: Top row from left to right: Charlayne Hunter-Gault, E. Paul Coates, Sarah Ladipo Manyika. Bottom row from left to right: Dorian Emerson Munroe and Calvin Alexander Ramsey.

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